A telling comment.

Monday, May 01, 2006
A telling comment at Parapundit.

"We can't do what we do without [Hispanic laborers]," says Pete Seghesio, CEO of Seghesio Family Vineyards in Sonoma County. "California cannot make 90-point wines without the hand care of these individuals. We're not Australia, where many of the [farming operations] are done by machines. It's impossible to make the kind of quality wine we're making in California today without this labor force of hands."

In his classic works about the history of technology in pre-modern China, Joseph Needham maintained that one reason for the Industrial Revolution not happening in Asia was the abundance of slave labor, which made the adoption of labor-saving technologies difficult to justify.

Where will the California wine industry be in 20 years?


MeaninglessHotAir said...

It never ceases to amaze me how much people view the current system as the only system possible. We're not using machines in California now, ergo we can never use machines in California. We pay migrant laborers squat now, ergo we can never pay a living wage to migrant labor. Advertisers on television can advertise as much as the want to children now, ergo the advertising laws can never be changed. Physicians make 9 times the average salary now, ergo no physician would ever work for anything less. CEO's are making 170 times their workers' wages now, ergo it will never be possible for them to make anything less. There is no atomic threat from Iran now, ergo there is nothing to worry about. The list is endless.

David Thomson said...

Slavery considerably weakened the Old South. The Northern states became far wealthier because they did not depend on this evil practice. Slave owners failed to modernize simply because of their reliance on inexpensive slave labor. Also, it is argued by a number of historians that the plague in Europe forced the survivors to invent new technologies which were less labor intensive.

terrye said...

I think machines will be used in the future, more and more. I went to using a big round baler to get away from the need for hiring hay crews who might or might not show up.

I also used machines for milking the cows. But when I had green peppers and strawberries and tomatoes I had to pick them by hand [myself]. I was not a big enough operator to afford machines. I also did the U Pick thing with people picking their own.

I don't think people are saying that things can not change, but it is just that the people calling for change are not the people responsible for making it happen.

People have been coming up here from Mexico to work the fields since long before we even had any concept of legal and illegal immigration. In fact for years they went back and forth with people not really even noticing them. Now there is a great deal more automation in agriculture than there used to be. But this kind of work is seasonal and people are better than the machines available. They do not waste or destroy as much of the product.

But I think machines will be used more widely in the future.

Skookumchuk said...

It is certainly true that machines are currently less able to handle certain crops - at the moment. The question here is if reliance on low cost manual labor retards the adoption of new technology. Historically, it has. When the transitory advantages of low cost labor are negated by the efficiencies of automation, the non-innovator is toast. And the non-innovator's society may be left with many, many individuals without jobs. For a long time.

terrye said...

I will tell you this, a good many of the people working those fields right now make as much money as an Aide working her tail off in a nursing home.

Believe it or not you do not have to be an illegal alien fruit picker to be the working poor in this country.

But if we pay people half again as much to work the fields than we do now, how is that aide going to be able to afford food for her children?

chuck said...

Now there is a great deal more automation in agriculture than there used to be.

I think this also affects the food that is grown. Almonds can be shaken down from trees with a shaker, ergo, more almonds are grown. Tomatoes are perishable and soft, ergo, cardboard tomatoes. Peaches peak and go in an instant. Ergo, getem before they are ripe. So on and so forth. Mechanization of agriculture leads to less tasty food. Maybe this is where a segmentation of the market into organic (expensive) and ordinary food takes place.

As to Australian wine, I buy it because it is cheap and, frankly, I can't tell the difference between a $6 bottle of Australian wine and a 9 dollar bottle from California. Now at $20 a bottle I can start to notice a difference.

Skookumchuk said...


Tomatoes are perishable and soft, ergo, cardboard tomatoes.

Often true. However, in my part of the world, those canny Canucks are doing a great job with comparatively tasty hothouse tomatoes shipped down to us gringos here in Washington State. The point being that eventually the technology does catch up.

terrye said...


I don't think that is entirely true.

My grandfather farmed with mules, Jules and Judy were their names. I remember them from when I was very small. He also took a 22 to the fields to protect himself from desperados. The good old days.

Today farmers not only use tractors, they use combines, and pickers and chemicals and genetic hybrids. The effect on rural America so far has not been entirely good.

Do you know why tomatoes you buy in the stores are hard instead of soft and juicy? Shipping.

People want cheap food, but then they complain about the costs of maintaining a system whose sole purpose is to provide a cheap steady supply of food to large urban areas.

Years ago a friend of mine was telling me about a letter his grandfather got from Purdue. The school was promoting the use of fertilizers by Indiana farmers. They told the man that he and other hog farmers should stop using manure for fertilizer and should instead start using chemicals, which were more effective.

He wrote back and asked them just what the hell they thought he should do with all that hog shit if he did not spread it on the fields?

That... they said was not their problem. So he told them that it was his problem and so until they could find something useful for him to do with it he would go right on doing what he had always done.

Needless to say there are very few farmers like that around anymore.

Skookumchuk said...


Do you know why tomatoes you buy in the stores are hard instead of soft and juicy? Shipping.

Yes, as an ex-railroader, how well I know. But an air-ride refrigerated truck doesn't cause the damage that a boxcar does and so the apple hybrids promoted by the Northern Pacific RR back before World War II may have less than optimal qualities for the transportation systems of today, which have come a long way. I do see your point and agree - but in the long term, the technology always wins.

And if the market demands quality, shipping will oblige. Take containerized grains and pulses going to Asia, which is a growing market sector all across the northern tier states and in Canada. These are blown in at the source and not handled again until destination. No breakage in the elevators and at the ports. No contamination either.

It does have its disadvantages though. I once opened what I thought was an empty container that was actually full of peas bound for Taiwan. All of the sudden the world turned green, just before I got the wind knocked out of me. A day to remember.

terrye said...


The absolute worse smell in the whole wide world is bad soybeans. It would gag a maggot. I fail to understand why we need to import oil when we have soybeans and hog manure. There has to be a way to harness that.

But technology does win. But when you look at the history of agriculture, there has been great changes in the last half century. It depopulated rural America..so if we as a society were willing to do that I think we can put the field hand on the endangered species list.

That is the irony of this, in the near future half of these jobs won't be there. It will not be a question of Americans doing them, machines will.

Americans migbht build the machines though. That kind of work they like to do.

Rick Ballard said...

"I will tell you this, a good many of the people working those fields right now make as much money as an Aide working her tail off in a nursing home."

Substantially more per hour worked but migrants don't get 2K hours per year too often. Maybe 1,700- 1,800 annual hours concentrated in nine months. Then home to rest.

If you wanted to reduce the drudge work, starting in motel room cleaning would be the best bet. There are more illegals doing cleaning work than there are migrant workers.

Btw - there are lots of mechanical pickers used for juice grapes in the San Joaquin Valley, they are less popular today than when first introduced due to the amount of fruit that is missed (at least that was true five years ago).

Skookumchuk said...


The absolute worse smell in the whole wide world is bad soybeans.

Hmm. It's a tie with uncured hides. Those are another containerized export. Normally there are fat stalactites dripping from the door sills. Nothing like inspecting those on a nice August afternoon.

But while automation has its costs, it isn't right that a Hispanic family be stuck doing field work for generations in a system that never changes to make their lives easier. That is why a combination of good schools and mastering advanced technology at work are tickets to the elevator up.

terrye said...


Wasn't the Attorney General's family migrants a generation or two back? My grandmother had a yard man who was so proud of his son going to college.

And look at all the military and law enforcement people of hispanic descent..so given the oppurtunity they will work hard and prosper.

I think I have thought of a bad smell that might beat the hides: retained placenta. When I was milking every now and then a cow would not "clean" properly after calving.. In other words you would have to put on long plastic gloves and [ahem] go in after the placenta.. I would "tail" the cow, while my husband got the honor of going after the rancid placenta. Man oh man was that ever rough. I used to pull my Tshirt up over my nose so that I could smell me instead of her.

terrye said...


All the maids used to be Irish.

chuck said...

It depopulated rural America..

Yep, and the Mennonites and Amish are moving in. If you and your family do the work, don't need expensive modern equipment and manufactured goods or can do your own community based maintainence, and are happy with your social life, there is really no need for migrant labor. I don't have any idea what sort of surplus is produced by these folks, but an interesting sort of social selection is taking place. Sort of parallels the selection for suburban and religious folks who outbreed the urbanites. And I notice that a significant fraction of the young award winning students seem to be home schooled these days. Hmm....

As to the May Day demonstrations, here in Logan, Utah, Miller's (meatpacking) and Icon (exercise equipment) have shut down for the day. Don't know what is happening in construction. The Hispanic population in the valley has exploded in the last ten years from almost nothing to a very noticeable presence. Some (many?) Hispanics are also Mormon converts, which makes me wonder what the position of the LDS church is. After all, Utah was pretty much settled by immigrant converts.

Skookumchuk said...

I want a Pellenc 3400 Grape Harvester instead of a rider mower.

CF said...

They will be using machines or be part of Mexico in 20 years.

terrye said...


The Amish were always here and the locals resent them. They say they bring down the price of labor.

But yes, if you want to live without electricity and don't mind having twelve children and putting them to work in the fields as soon as they can walk..you don't need migrants.